Another blow to baseball

A Times Editorial
Published August 4, 2005

Maybe Baltimore Orioles slugger Rafael Palmeiro just got his punctuation wrong. He told Congress in March he had "never used steroids, period." But he apparently meant "comma," as in "never used steroids, comma, intentionally." His implausible excuse, offered Monday upon release of his positive test for steroids, is yet another reminder of how much performance-enhancing drugs have cheapened the sport.

Palmeiro, one of only four players in history with 500 home runs and 3,000 hits, is the biggest of the eight names to be identified this year as violating Major League Baseball's new steroid testing policy. He is only the second to challenge the results of the testing, a process that was quietly taking place as the league celebrated his 3,000th hit last month.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig views the high-profile Palmeiro suspension as further evidence the policy is working, that the league is putting every player on notice. He's probably right, except that 10 days, by his own admission, is a small price for these big-leaguers to pay.

If the point is to eliminate the drugs from the sport and the sporting culture, then players shouldn't get so many chances at bat.

Palmeiro is only the latest athlete to be linked to steroids, and his insistence that he never "intentionally" used them calls to mind the leaked grand jury testimony of the San Francisco Giants' Barry Bonds. Bonds admitted using "the cream" and "the clear," two steroids supposedly undetectable through normal testing, but said he thought they were a rubbing balm and a nutritional supplement. Sure.

What is disconcerting about Palmeiro's claim this time is the extent to which the league's disclosure policy can work to a player's advantage. Palmeiro is trying to cast doubt on the accuracy of testing by hinting that it may have detected some byproduct in a legal supplement he took.

The league, meanwhile, won't reveal the name of the drug. Maybe that's why an anonymous league official tipped off the New York Times on Tuesday, revealing that the drug was actually a potent anabolic steroid called stanozolol.

Stanozolol is the same type of drug that caused Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson to be stripped of his 1998 Olympic gold medal, and experts say there is virtually no chance it could be ingested or injected by accident. Maybe Palmeiro is misstating the nature of his "intentions."